Ruling on 'trusted' status of TripAdvisor reviews welcomed


THE IRISH Hotels Federation has welcomed a ruling published by the British Advertising Standards Authority this morning which prohibits travel website TripAdvisor from claiming or even implying the hotel reviews it carries are “honest, real or trusted”.

The federation also called on all travel review websites to “put in place the necessary safeguards to ensure reviews posted online are transparent and independent” so consumers could make informed decisions when booking accommodation.

The federation issued its statement ahead of a ruling from the authority published this morning after a six-month investigation into TripAdvisor instigated after a complaint by KwikChex, an online reputation management company which represents 2,000 British hotels.

The complaint focused on the site’s claims regarding the trustworthiness and reliability of reviews posted on TripAdvisor. KwikChex made the complaint due to what it said were exaggerated claims by the website on the bona fides of the more than 50 million reviews it carried.

The complaint highlighted three statements on the TripAdvisor website which claimed it carried “reviews you can trust”. The site said visitors could “read reviews from real travellers” and said it contained “more than 50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travellers around the world”.

The authority said: “Because we considered that the claims implied that consumers could be assured that all review content on the Trip-Advisor site was genuine, when we understood that might not be the case, we concluded that the claims were misleading.

“We told TripAdvisor not to claim or imply that all the reviews that appeared on the website were from real travellers, or were honest, real or trusted.”

TripAdvisor accused the authority of taking “a highly technical view around some marketing copy that was used in a limited capacity”, and told The Irish Times it had “confidence that the 50 million users who come to our site every month trust the reviews they read on TripAdvisor, which is why they keep coming back to us in increasingly larger numbers to plan and have the perfect trip”.

Federation president Paul Gallagher said he welcomed the ruling “insofar as it goes some way to putting in place a structure which means consumers can trust reviews”.

While he described TripAdvisor as “a game changer” which had had “a very positive impact on the travel sector as was shown by its ranking of three Irish hotels in its top 25 hotels in the world last month”, he said unverified negative reviews on the site had the “potential to do a lot of damage” to a hotel.

The news comes in the wake of reports that one of the State’s largest hotel chains planned a campaign involving “a bank” of people aimed at generating false positive reviews on TripAdvisor.

In the summer of 2010 the Carlton Hotel Group encouraged dozens of employees by email to post positive reviews of the chain’s 10 hotels on the website. In response to queries by The Irish Times earlier this week the company’s solicitors said the content of the email sent by one of its executives was “a misinterpretation of the intention of the board which was at all times to encourage positive posts from happy guests and not to in any way encourage employees of our client to publish posts on the TripAdvisor website relating to our client”.